WHS enters realm of robotics

Sixteen Wauseon High School students are blazing a trail for themselves and future technology students with a hands-on experience that could lead to promising careers.

The students are members of the school’s first robotics class, where they’ll learn engineering from the ground up to assemble rudimentary robots from kits. Technology teacher Katie Miller is confident the class, which offers components of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, will encourage them to pursue related fields.

“There’s a big interest in it. It incorporates a lot of engineering concepts that they will be able to use in their future careers,” she said.

Following five weeks of engineering instruction, the students will begin this month to design and build simple metal and plastic robots through kits manufactured by Texas-based VEX Robotics. Miller likened the process to building from Erector sets, with sensors included to allow the robots to perform specific functions.

After their completion, the robots will be able to perform basic tasks such as following a specific color line or staying on a certain trajectory. Those with claws and arms will be programmed to pick up objects and carry them.

By the end of the year-long class, students will have built and programmed more complex robots with sensors that will work in tandem in order to perform more complicated challenges.

The approximately foot-high, 15-inch wide robots take one to two weeks to construct. “It gives the students a project-based curriculum, so they’re actually doing what they’re learning,” Miller said. “It’s very detail-oriented, so they have to make sure they are doing it correctly.”

At the end of the school year the robots are deconstructed and the reusable pieces stored. The $1,100 kits are purchased from DEPCO, a Kansas-based company that sells educational curriculum.

The high school’s administrators had been in discussions about an engineering class over the last year or two. Miller, who previously taught an engineering course, “Project Lead the Way,” at Toledo Horizon Science Academy, offered several scenarios including robotics. Last October, she visited several Toledo schools and researched their engineering programs. In July, she was trained in the latest in robotics at Carnagie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

About 30 WHS students expressed interest in the new course; 16 comprised of seniors, juniors, and one sophomore were chosen according to three prerequisites: grades, seniority, and completion of a Web design class for the coding experience.

“It’s giving students a hands-on approach to explore engineering and design and electronics,” Miller said. “(And) it gives the students an opportunity to explore different careers and see if it’s something they’re actually interested in so they can prepare for their future.”

While robotics is new to WHS, Miller said it’s become relatively common in high school curricula, spreading quickly over the last few years.

As director and past president of Wauseon Machine and Manufacturing, Eric Patty is offering Miller and and her students continued advice, support, and insight into industrial robotics, a key component of the business. That has included an invitation to visit the site and witness robotics in action.

Patty said the growth in industrial robotics will be huge, and will include the need for today’s students to be skillful with them.

“It’s very important that our high school is preparing our students, not only those going on into engineering but also for technical training for students who want to make an impact in the job force,” he said. “There is going to be huge growth in this industry, and there is going to be need for these students. Wauseon Machine is going to conitnue to offer support of this program as the needs of the program expand.”

WHS Principal Keith Leatherman said the school’s former industrial technology classes touched on certain aspects of engineering “but we haven’t had anything quite like this. This is definitely a different level than anything we’ve had in the past.”

Leatherman said the robotics course offers students “a chance to look at the different skills available, and a unique opportunity to combine the engineering concept and problem-solving.” He said it will become a permanent part of the school’s curriculum, and likely will be expanded.

“There’s a keen interest in it, and I see it continuing on,” he said. “We try to offer a wide range of electives. It’s a key course for students looking to enter the engineering and manufacturing fields. I think it’s a great elective course to provide for those kids.”

Senior Austin McHenry takes the class, and wants to pursue computer programming after high school.

“It’s giving students a hands-on approach to explore engineering and design and electronics. It’s cool to get a basic start on it,” he said. “I’m just excited for the course.”

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Students Austin McHenry and David Avelares build a VEX Robot for Wauseon High School’s new robotics class.
https://www.fcnews.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/2017/09/web1_robot.jpgStudents Austin McHenry and David Avelares build a VEX Robot for Wauseon High School’s new robotics class.
New class excites students

By David J. Coehrs


Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.